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3 Keys to Writing a Good Short Film Screenplay

By December 5, 2013 One Comment

Filmmakers want to make short films that win festival awards & go viral online. In today’s world, a short film’s critical acclaim goes hand in hand with retweets, likes & shares.  ScreenCraft actually created an entire event around short-film directors: From Online Short to Studio Feature.  As a screenwriter about to start a new short screenplay, you’d do well to write something that is different, worthy of mentions and shares. Whether your goal is to win a $20,000 short film grant or your goal is to inspire a director enough to commit to your project, there are 3 major obstacles your story must overcome:

1. Short Attention Spans Be honest. How many times have you clicked ‘play’ on a short film and watched it all the way through?  I’ll bet you remember the shorts that held your attention. The sad truth is, you have a matter of moments to win over viewers/readers. So make them count.  Grab hold of their attention and never let them go.  The longer you have them, the more likely they will recommend your project to others. Holding people’s attention is a basic rule of screenwriting but audiences are more willing to accept exposition/character development in a feature.  Shorts do not have that luxury.

2. Complex Clarity This one is tricky. A short screenplay must be short and therefor a level of simplicity is implied.  However, it’s also important to inject as much complexity into your story as possible. It’s part of the agonizing joy of writing short films. How much character can you inject into each sentence?  How many memorable moments can you include without slowing your story’s momentum down?  Are you able to identify the moments you adore but ultimately must cut so your tale can thrive? Every sentence should thrust the story forward AND reveal more about your characters.  Make every opportunity count but keep it simple! Sound complicated? This is why incredible short screenplays are so special and your script can be too!

3. Memorability A short screenplay/film only has a limited amount of time to endear itself to audiences. The most successful ones truly resonate. Personally, I still search for my favorite short films by name whenever I need a good smile. What makes your short screenplay stand out? Is it a unique situation or character? Is it a twist ending or punch line? Does it deal with an important issue worth talking discussing? Does your screenplay truly reach the audience you strive to entertain? All of these questions are vital because it allows you to step back and evaluate your creative choices. Finding the right answers to those questions will surely make your short screenplay better. Now take your latest concept that won’t go away and develop it into something inspiring!  Even if you are met with challenges once you type FADE OUT, no one can take away the journey and what you learned from it. That’s what makes screenwriting so special. When you’re writing, nothing else matters but your passion and your story.  Every time you start & finish something new, you evolve as a screenwriter.  Win.

Jason McKinnon is a ScreenCraft guest contributor.  He is the creator of The Screenwriting Spark.

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